JOHN GOODBODY: The loss of Modern Pentathlon would be an insult to the Olympics
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January 22 - The London Olympics saw the centenary of Modern Pentathlon being introduced to the Games at the request of Baron de Coubertin, the founder of the Olympic Movement. It would be a travesty if the start of its second century should see a decision to drop the sport from the Games from 2020.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board will meet in Lausanne next month to consider, which of the 28 sports on the programme for 2016 should be omitted after Rio de Janeiro to make way for one or more sports of the seven seeking inclusion for 2020. These seven are: a combined bid of baseball/softball (both of which were left out of the London programme), climbing, karate, rollersports, squash, wakeboarding and wushu.
It is feared that modern pentathlon is the sport most at risk. As the programme is reviewed, it would be sensible in any case to swap karate for taekwondo,(which should never have been on the Olympic programme anyway because karate is far more popular globally).
However, the IOC does not always make sensible decisions,as we have seen in the recent past. When baseball and softball went out of the Olympics, two sports, golf and rugby sevens, were added to the programme and these will make their debut in 2016. I have nothing against golf provided that the top players take part in the Games but the selection of rugby sevens rather than the proper 15-a-side game was absurd. The IOC was simply deceived by dubious statistics as to the popularity of rugby sevens in the world as the International Rugby Board was unwilling to propose 15-a-side rugby because it would have damaged the status of the Rugby Union World Cup, which takes place in the year before the Olympics.
There are many reasons why modern pentathlon should be part of the Games, beyond any deference to De Coubertin and the Olympic tradition. First, it is one of only two sports in the Summer Games, which combine sports all of which are already in the Olympics. Triathlon is the other but its competitors do not have to demonstrate such a wide variety of physical properties as those in the five activities of modern pentathlon: fencing, swimming, horse-riding, shooting and running.
Second, a total of only 72 male and female athletes take part so making little demands on the restricted numbers. Third, the sport only uses facilities, which are already in existence for the Games. The UIPM, the world governing body, has proposed that all five should now take place in one new stadium and Rio has come up with a scheme to do this. However, I have yet to be convinced that such a plan will sufficiently benefit the sport’s appeal to spectators to offset the cost of building facilities for future hosts and such a plan may have to be different for financial reasons from the annual world championships.
As it is, the last three events, the riding and the combined running/shooting all took place in the same venue in London and so spectators were able to witness the climax of the competition. And in recent years there have been some dramatic changes of position and also spectacular finishes. In the running, the fact that the athletes start in their staggered positions, depending on their points tally after three events, is readily appreciable to the crowd and the event has become even more unpredictable because the 3000 metre run is interrupted three times for the athletes to score five times on the centre of the target with laser pistols before being able to resume their run.
In London, the women’s modern pentathlon was the final event of the Games, an eminently suitable choice to provide the last sporting climax of the Games. Long may it remain so.
** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.
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